Widespread Condemnation from Faith Groups After Trump Announces Paris Accord Withdrawal

June 9, 2017
Donald Trump

On Thursday, June 1, Donald Trump announced his plans to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, a 2015 global accord designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The long-term goal of the agreement is to keep global warming from exceeding the “tipping point” of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures.

During his announcement speech, Trump said that the accord placed a disproportionate burden on the United States.

“The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris agreement. They went wild. They were so happy,” Trump said. “For the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage.”

The United States had originally committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 to 2025. The world’s second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, the United States and China together are responsible for 40 percent of all global carbon dioxide emissions.

Without the participation of the world’s second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, The Washington Post reported, scientists said it would be “nearly impossible” for the world to restrict global warming from surpassing the 2-degree Celsius mark.

While the 2-degree Celsius goal is a ballpark figure, former American Meteorological Society president Marshall Shepherd wrote that most scientists agree that global warming beyond that benchmark would result in unprecedented challenges for humanity. Humans have never lived on earth in such a warm climate system, and scientists predict that the change will cause the earth to “lock in” to patterns of sea level rise, drought, wildfires, and other phenomena that will submerge many coastal regions and put a massive strain on global food and water supplies.

“If you have kids or grandkids, ask yourself what would happen to their body’s systems if they ran a continual fever of 102 degrees F,” Shepherd said. “I use this analogy because out of context 1-3 degrees may not sound like much to the average person.

Religious groups around the world had an almost unanimously negative reaction to the decision, but Trump maintained significant support from the conservative Christian groups that have championed his rise to the presidency. Cornwall Alliance, a Christian environmental organization advocating “Biblical earth stewardship,” praised the move as a smart financial decision. Cornwall Alliance signatory and climate scientist Roy Spencer wrote, “Human health and prosperity depend upon access to affordable energy…. [The] 2015 Paris Climate Treaty will hurt the human condition by making that energy much more expensive.”

Spencer continued, “I frankly don’t care where our energy comes from as long as the source is abundant and affordable. To me, that is the only moral position one can take on the subject after examining the science and economics of the matter.”

Other conservative evangelicals expressed their belief that God would intervene before any catastrophic changes could occur due to climate change. Last month, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich) announced at a town hall that his Christian beliefs make him confident that “if there’s a real problem, [God] can take care of it.”

Such views are at odds with the vast majority of religious groups across the United States and abroad, most of whom publicly lamented Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement and reaffirmed their religious beliefs that humans are called to be caretakers of the earth.

Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, spokesperson for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, told Reuters that Trump’s decision “was an affront to our faith in Christ, who calls us to love and be concerned for our neighbors around the world who are impacted by climate change.”

Spokespersons from other religious faiths echoed Meyaard-Schaap’s sentiments.

“Climate change is already placing a disproportionate burden on vulnerable communities around the world, generating severe storms, flooding, droughts and famine,” said Robert Bank, president and CEO of the American Jewish World Service. Banks told Forward, “We stand proudly as Jews who cherish the Earth to object in the strongest terms to the President’s shortsighted and damaging decision.”

The American Sikh Council, too, condemned “in the strongest possible terms” Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement. “The importance of air, water and the Earth to life are emphasized over and over again in the Sri Guru Granth Sabibii,” the Council said in a statement. “The American Sikh Council not only calls on its own members across the nation but also those of other Faith organizations to join hands in putting pressure on President Trump through their respective elected officials to reverse his decision before all is lost.”

Calls for unity among faith groups were ubiquitous in the days following the announcement. Members of the Baha’i community referred to Baha’i writings proclaiming the shared consciousness and fate of humankind before entreating, “Unity…must replace the increased polarization that has come to characterize so much of our political and social lives. And science and religion must be permitted to light the way if we are to succeed in building an integrated, sustainable and prosperous world.”

A statement from the Parliament of the World’s Religions condemned the decision as “wrong from every relevant perspective.”

“Scientifically, it is unsound and indefensible. Economically, it undermines the ability of the United States to build a competitive economy for the future…. Medically, it condemns hundreds of thousands to unnecessary sickness and premature death. Politically, it undermines the United States’ credibility and trustworthiness with its strongest allies as well as its fiercest competitors, and thus strikes a self-inflicted blow against national security,” the organization said.

Trump, who has claimed that global warming is a “hoax” invented “by and for the Chinese,” joins just two other world leaders in his decision to exit the Paris accord. The United States will now join Syria and Nicaragua as the only abstainers in the world from the agreement.

--by Caroline Matas

Image Source: Donald Trump. Photo by Michael Vadon, Flickr Creative Commons.